Emissions of sulfur dioxide from the volcanic eruption at Holuhraun amounted to nearly 12 million tons. That is more than the total emission of the dangerous gas over the whole of Europe in 2011, according to University of Iceland scientist, Sigurður Reynir Gíslason.
“The Holuhraun eruption spewed poisonous sulfur dioxide (SO2) over a large area of Europe and the eruption was the biggest in Iceland since the ‘Skaftá Fires’ from 1783 to 1784. The Holuhraun eruption lasted for six months from 31st August 2014 to 27th February 2015,” a press statement on the release of the results in the journal Geochemical Perspectives Letters states.
SO2 can have negative health effects in high concentrations; especially respiratory problems and irritation to eyes, nose and throat. High concentrations in the atmosphere can cause coughs, respiratory illness and chest pains. Sigurður Reynir says that during the eruption SO2 levels in Iceland went well above safe limits at times, and that the impacts were also felt elsewhere in Europe, Vísir reports.
Though Holuhraun was the biggest eruption in 200 years, the Skaftá Fires were much larger. Most Icelanders noticed the effects of SO2 on their health in 2014/2015.
“Luckily the pollution was highest in areas which are uninhabited. We were also lucky with the timing of the eruption, not least because of the weather. The same is true for mainland Europe. The average wind speed is much more in the winter than the summer and therefore the sulfur dioxide cloud dissipated and the strength of the sulfur dioxide decreased in the atmosphere with dispersion.
“In this strong wind the gas moved quickly away from the land before the sulfur dioxide changed into sulfuric acid,” Sigurður says—adding that the winter darkness helped, as sunshine is a major catalyst in the conversion of SO2 to sulfuric acid.